Lion of Judah
I’m certainly glad to have finished my days of COVID isolation and return to normal interactions. Thank you for your patience and flexibility. It sounds like the other priests and deacons who tested positive for it are also recovering well, but please do especially keep them in your continued prayers. With mostly just a bit of sinus drainage and a mild cough, my own symptoms have been mercifully light and easy enough to deal with. The change in taste and smell is still the most annoying, but I have indications that those, too, are returning. Older or heavier priests may not have had it as easy as I, though.
One great thing during these days is that I’ve been hitting my Scripture-reading target again, about 4 chapters each day. If I keep it up, I should be able to finish out the New Testament before the end of the year. I’m currently in Luke, which we studied during Clergy Days this year, since Luke will be the focus of the Sunday Lectionary starting this December. I think if I really had to pick a favorite Gospel, Luke’s would be it because of so many unique features and Parables (Good Samaritan, Prodigal Son) and for his emphasis on the Gospel being sent to all the nations of the world.
Every gospel account, though, features the mysterious figure of Christ, always saying or doing things that made His listeners both wonder and often react even with anger or violence. There’s something about just reading through the words of the Gospel that brings out and renews the strangeness of the God-Man that those who saw Him walking on earth must have experienced. Jesus is “the same yesterday, today, and forever.” He is still the Lion of Judah, untamed, even as He becomes the Lamb of God for our salvation and nourishment.
Too often we just sort of place Jesus in a box and think we have Him figured out. We don’t allow Him to challenge and unsettle us. We think He’ll demand more than we’re yet willing to give, and we forget that He also supplies the strength we need to respond to His invitation. This past Friday was the Feast of Pope St. John Paul II who so often reiterated, “Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid. Open, I say open wide the doors for Christ.” He will take nothing that we actually need, and He gives everything that truly satisfies.
Blaming God for Human Sins
A month or so ago, a priest from Ghana in Africa was visiting the area and joined us for supper in Aberdeen. A number of our priests studied with him in St. Paul Seminary. His own vocation story is rather remarkable. He was a simple shepherd when he discovered the Gospel and could hardly believe such a God would care so much about lowly, dirty shepherds as to send Angels to announce to them the birth of Christ and have them as some of His first adorers. Of course, the Son of God was even fond of referring to Himself as the Good Shepherd. Deeply astounded, this man converted to the Faith and pursued studies for the priesthood.
In Ghana, a typical ordination gift is a motorcycle from the diocese to help the priest get around to his many, many mission parishes—often 30 or more—with hundreds of baptisms each year and at every Easter Vigil. Besides distances and cost of fuel, another obstacle is bad roads. At supper, he was telling us about the corruption in government that often perpetuates the low quality of their infrastructure. Certainly corruption has been a growing problem in our own country as well.
How he related this corruption, though, to our relationship with God was really interesting and something I’ve thought about frequently since then. Those who get money for projects often give a lot of it away to their own family and relatives and what’s left for the actual work is just a fraction. The work often ends up being very low quality due to the misuse of funds and can go on for years or decades. Then years after completion, tragedy strikes. A bridge falls down. A school building topples. People get hurt. People die. “Why would God let this happen?”
Why are we blaming God at all? God wasn’t the one stealing funding and building the faulty bridges and buildings. God doesn’t take away our free will, and so many of the tragedies of life are due to human sinfulness. What is tragic is that it’s usually the innocent who suffer most from the sins of others. But that’s not God’s fault. It’s ours.
As this priest returned to Africa, I sent along an extra thurible, incense boat, and bell from Holy Trinity in Hosmer, so these will continue to bring glory to God even on another continent. Also recently, an extra chalice from St. John the Baptist in Onaka was sent to Holy Spirit in Mitchell. They use it now for Sunday Masses there.
Rosary Every Day
As I was growing up, I would often hear my mom say, “The family who prays together stays together.” I wasn’t always thrilled to hear this when I was younger, because it usually meant it was time to shut off the TVs and gather together to pray the rosary as a family. We did this consistently, almost every evening, until there were fewer of us around, probably till I was in high school.
By the time I was a senior in high school, I had come to appreciate the rosary more and more. I also had more love for my family members by then. During that year, one of my sisters was living at home again, going through the dental hygiene program at USD. Every once in a while, we’d still gather with our parents in the living room to pray the rosary at the end of the day. Afterwards, we’d often just stay and talk. Those were some of my favorite evenings. As the youngest in my family, I was always glad that my sister was still at home and was able to see me grow up in ways that perhaps my other siblings were not around to see.
Along with being Respect Life month, October is the month of our Lady of the Rosary. Over 100 years ago, our Blessed Mother instructed the shepherd children of Fatima to pray the rosary every day to obtain peace in the world. October 13 is the Anniversary of the Miracle of the Sun at Fatima. Our Adult Catechesis for the month of October will look at the history and development of the Rosary and the Liturgy of the Hours, at 7 pm on Sunday, October 10, in Hoven and at 7 pm on Thursday, October 14, in Bowdle. We’ll be meeting in the basement of each church. People of any age or faith are welcome to attend this or any catechesis in future months.
Every day during this month, we can recommit ourselves to praying a daily rosary, meditating upon the inexhaustible mysteries of the lives of Jesus and Mary. And when we pray with others, we can be strengthened by them in our commitment to God, even as we allow God to draw us closer to one another. The family who prays together stays together.
The Powers Tremble
With Michael as my middle name, I’ve always had some devotion to the Holy Angels, whether the Archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, or our Guardian Angels. Both of these Feast days fell during this past week: September 29 and October 2. Besides the Angels and Archangels, the nine choirs of Angels also include Principalities, Powers, Virtues, Dominions, Thrones, Cherubim, and Seraphim.
From different artistic depictions of Angels, including chubby baby faces of Cherubs, we might get the impression that these are just sweet and gentle spirits, but this is a very far cry from the witness of Sacred Scripture. Throughout the Bible, human beings who realize that they have actually come into contact with Angels are terrified by the experience, hence the Angels’ almost constant refrain of, “Do not be afraid.” They’ve also been known to wrestle with Jacob, wage war, and release plagues upon the earth.
But these terrifying creatures also tremble in the presence of Almighty God. The Angels are mentioned in almost every Preface of the Mass, as it is the hymn of the Seraphim that we repeat as we cry, “Holy, holy, holy…” (Isaiah 6:3). Several Prefaces confess to God that “the Angels praise your majesty, Dominions adore and Powers tremble before you.” I wonder at what the Angels must ‘see’ at Mass. Without physical senses, they are perhaps more tuned in to what is really happening. The Angels see bread and wine offered upon the altar, but as the priest pronounces the very words that Jesus used at the Last Supper, “This is my Body,” and, “This is the chalice of my Blood,” the bread and wine vanish from their sight. Taking their place, the King of all the Universe, Jesus Christ, is then the only One seen upon the altar by the Angels, and seeing, they tremble in His Presence. God grant us that same spiritual vision, to know by faith what Angels and Saints know by sight—to know, and to tremble.
This week I’ll be joining Bishop DeGrood and most of the priests and deacons of the diocese for our annual Clergy Days across the river from Chamberlain. Please pray for us that this would be a time of renewal and rededication in our proclamation of the Gospel and celebration of the mysteries of God for His holy people throughout the Diocese of Sioux Falls. Holy Angels of God, watch over us teach us to see what you see.
This past Tuesday evening my parents stopped by, dropped off a bunch of food, and gave me a haircut before attending events for grandparents of students at Roncalli in Aberdeen. I think I’ve mentioned before that it’s kind of strange seeing my parents now in the role of grandparents. My dad in particular, as I was growing up, I never remember him carrying around Tootsie Rolls, but he is seldom without them now for bribing the grandkids.
Being the youngest in my family, both of my grandfathers died before I was around or old enough to have any memory of them. I remember visiting my grandmothers, especially on Sundays, and for a number of years still in their own homes. Near one house, I remember sledding down a hill and playing on wooden planks spanning a ditch. At the other, there was still an outhouse for a while, and we played around a smaller shed and some fuel tanks. I loved my grandmas, and for a number of years I’d always draw the Stations of the Cross as an Easter gift for each of them.
When I was in college seminary, there were two older priests on staff. I know at least one of them had come out of retirement to work at the seminary again. I’m not sure if I told them this, but I always saw them as grandfatherly figures, even to the whole seminary, but especially for me because I never knew my own grandfathers. One lived on my floor and was my formation director for a number of years. He was always so affirming of each person’s gifts that I’d always come away from meetings with him feeling like I could accomplish anything and everything. The other I’d see for Confession sometimes or just around the building or campus. I always found him to be an image of Christ’s own gentleness, mercy, and cheerfulness.
Sts. Joachim and Anne are remembered as the parents of Mary, the Mother of God, and therefore the grandparents of Jesus. They are powerful intercessors for all who fill the role of grandparents today, who are so often crucial for handing on and bearing witness to the faith. We should daily be grateful and marvel at all those who handed life and faith down to us, even back through centuries of our ancestors. May we always honor them by serving Christ with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength.
Among the Apostles and early Christians and throughout history until very recently, Christian asceticism (“discipline,” voluntary self-denial) found regular expression throughout the year, even on a daily basis. Every Friday, not just during Lent, commemorates the Passion and Death of Jesus upon the Cross for our salvation, even as Sunday is a weekly celebration of His Resurrection. We should still be offering to God some form of penance and self-denial on every Friday throughout the year, even though Fridays during Lent are now the only ones on which this penance is required to include abstinence from meat.
One of the other regular practices of “denying oneself, taking up our cross, and following Christ” included the observance of Ember Days, once during each of the four seasons of the year. Following the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (September 14), the Autumn Ember Days occur on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday of this upcoming week. This set of three days is set aside especially to give thanks to God for all the blessings of the past year and to beg His abundant favor upon us in the future, favorable weather and health for our families, livestock and crops. These days are also dedicated to prayer for vocations, that God would reap a spiritual harvest by granting us “priests, holy priests, many holy priests and religious vocations.”
The Ember Days are observed as days of prayer, fasting (maximum of one full meal and two smaller meals if necessary to maintain strength, and no eating between meals), and abstinence from meat (all of Friday, with meat allowed at one meal on Wednesday and on Saturday). Please join me in keeping these sacred days, when so many are experiencing slavery and destruction through an excess of self-indulgence and a lack of even the most basic discipline. Pray that many more will answer the call to be holy priests, when so many priests and bishops have failed to follow Christ. “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest” (Luke 10:2).
For adult catechesis this year, I’m considering monthly sessions. The first couple topics will likely be a history and overview of the Rosary and Liturgy of the Hours in October, Funeral Planning and End of Life Issues in November.
Close to Jesus to the Last
This coming Tuesday and Wednesday are special Feastdays, the Exaltation of the Holy Cross and Our Lady of Sorrows. The dates correspond to the Dedication of the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem back in the year 327, after the discovery of the True Cross by St. Helena, Constantine’s mother. The whole month of September is devoted in a special way to Our Lady of Sorrows, who—above any other Saint, as Co-Redemptrix—was strengthened by God to follow Jesus along His Way of the Cross and to join the sufferings of a mother’s Immaculate Heart to His supreme Sacrifice for our salvation.
It seems appropriate that as we approach the beginning of autumn in the Northern Hemisphere, as much of what is green turns brown or other colors, and life seems to fade from much of the natural world around us, the Church directs our minds once again to the sorrows and death that saved the world. Another reminder that even as the Death of Jesus on the Cross was not the end, so the fading and colder temperatures of this season will not be the end—even if we’ll have to wait more than a few days for spring to return.
Bishop Emeritus Paul Swain (emeritus is the term used for retired bishops, the Latin word for “having completed one’s service) would often mention the Seven Sorrows of Mary as especially comforting, to know that our Blessed Mother endured many hardships and anxieties similar to our own even throughout her life, and that our own sufferings are not pointless but have value in God’s eyes when joined to the saving Cross of Christ. As we head towards cooler days, let’s take the Blessed Virgin as a constant companion. Reflecting upon all that she endured can help to lighten our own burdens and bring perspective to our sufferings. With firm faith, she continued to magnify the Lord who had done great things in her, to know that Christ would rise again, as He had promised.
The Seven Sorrows of Mary:
- The Prophecy of Simeon (“A sword of sorrow shall pierce your heart.”)
- The Flight into Egypt
- The Loss of the Child Jesus in the Temple
- Meeting Jesus on His Way of the Cross
- The Crucifixion
- The Taking Down of the Body of Jesus from the Cross
- The Burial of Jesus
Serving Mammon Quite Faithfully—God, Not So Much
Long considered a spiritual classic, the Imitation of Christ comes up every once in a while in the Office of Readings. My favorite passage was in the reading for Monday of this week, and I can’t help finding it even more striking in light of all that’s happened with the pandemic, environmentalism, or elaborate rules of woke vocabulary. Here’s the passage:
The world promises rewards that are temporal and insignificant, and these are pursued with great longing; I promise rewards that are eternal and unsurpassable, yet the hearts of mortals respond sluggishly. Who serves and obeys me in all matters with as much care as the world and its princes are served? Blush, then, you lazy, complaining servant, for men are better prepared for the works of death than you are for the works of life. They take more joy in vanity than you in truth. (Book 3.3)
It’s obviously a good thing to take reasonable steps to prevent the spread of disease even as we gather to worship God at Holy Mass, but among those who should especially prioritize spiritual and heavenly things, have we seen any comparable effort at stemming the contagion of sin and raising awareness of its dangers not just in this life but for all eternity?
One critique of many Catholic bishops and priests I’ve heard is that they were willing, for example, to ban receiving Communion on the tongue in their dioceses or parishes out of concern for bodily health, but few seem to remember these same shepherds ever having such great concern for the spiritual health of their flocks. Had they ever issued reminders with any comparable urgency about the need to be in the state of sanctifying grace in order to receive Holy Communion, lest we “eat and drink condemnation upon ourselves” (1 Cor. 11:29)?
In other areas, we might just consider how eagerly, with such enthusiasm and energy, many people pursue the false pleasures of drinking bouts and various addictions—scratching an itch that only promises to grow itchier the more it is scratched—and compare how reluctantly and sheepishly so many of us ever broach the subject of our friendship with Christ during a conversation with someone who could benefit from the Gospel. If only the followers of Christ would serve Him with as much vigor as others (or we ourselves) tend to serve instead our false gods. “Athletes deny themselves all sorts of things. They do so to win a crown that withers, but we a crown that is imperishable” (1 Cor. 9:25).
Bike Across the Prairie
While it’s not my favorite hobby, I do a fair bit of bicycling from time to time. It can be a nice opportunity for prayer and reflection. I’ve gone a few miles out from each town along with riding between Bowdle and Hoven or Hoven and Gettysburg several times, once from Hoven out past Onaka and back. Those can be fairly long rides if I do them in the same day, especially since at least in one direction the wind will likely be against me. I have not, however, done anything like what Fr. Terry Anderson and Fr. Mark Lichter have done for several years.
This year (actually this week) they’ll be riding 250 miles in 5 days, from the world’s only Corn Palace in Mitchell to the so-called Cathedral on the Prairie in Hoven. On Thursday, they should reach Onaka, then they’ll stay with me in Bowdle Thursday night before resuming their course on Friday from Onaka to Bowdle to Hoven. They compete not to see who finishes first but who raises the most money. Since he spent some time in these parishes previously, Fr. Anderson thinks you should contribute to his cause, which is funding for the relatively new St. Thomas More Catholic School in Brookings. Their parish website has a link where you can donate: http://stmbrookings.weebly.com/
Fr. Lichter is now in St. Wenceslaus Parish in Tabor. As a seminarian I spent a summer with him at Sacred Heart in Yankton, along with Fr. John Rutten and—ordained in the meantime—Fr. Tim Cone, who had been the choir director there at the time. You might meet Fr. Cone sometime as he is one of the four priests now in Aberdeen.
Over Labor Day, I’ll be gathering with the Bishop and several other priests at the Abbey of the Hills. I’ve only been there a couple times while it was still Blue Cloud Abbey, but I don’t think I’ve ever stayed there for a retreat or anything. Through generous donations, they’re hosting this priest gathering free of charge and providing meals for us to have some fellowship. I hope you always pray for our Bishop and for the priests and deacons of our diocese. Pray for the safety of the two priests on bikes, and be sure to give them room and a wave if you see them out on the road.
The Cross that Saved the World
My dad’s hometown is St. Helena, Nebraska, not too far from Yankton across the river. Today, it has a population of less than 100 people. Because of how the name of the town is pronounced, and since I didn’t have much occasion myself for spelling it out, it never really dawned on me till around 15 years ago that it’s named after a saint. St. Helena’s feast day is actually August 18, which was this past Wednesday. She was the mother of Emperor Constantine, the first Roman Emperor to legalize Christianity. After becoming Christian, she traveled to the Holy Land to visit the places where Jesus walked, preached, suffered, died, and rose triumphant from the grave. She oversaw the construction of many of the first churches and shrines at those holy sites.
St. Helena is most famous for discovering the True Cross on which Jesus died. Perhaps the most significant and interesting church in the world is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. It has been built and rebuilt many times, but under one or perhaps several roofs (but all within the same complex building), going up some stairs you can visit Mount Calvary, the site of the Crucifixion and Death of Jesus, and a very short distance away in the main apse of the church stands the small chapel of the tomb, where the Son of God changed everything by rising from the dead on the third day. At the other end of the church, down a couple sets of stairs is a chapel dedicated to St. Helena on the site of her discovery of the Cross of Christ, where the Roman executioners would have tossed it after the Body of Jesus was taken down.
The True Cross was distinguished from those of other criminals by many healings and miracles that occurred by contact with it. Even today in many places, relics of the True Cross survive and are used for the Veneration on Good Friday. The 5th Station of the Cross is one of my favorites for meditation. To think of how Simon of Cyrene was privileged to share in the very same Cross of Christ, yet we know he probably didn’t see it as a privilege at first. And when faced with sufferings ourselves, we rarely recognize in them the great dignity of sharing in Christ’s Passion. But like Simon, being near Christ in our sufferings—even those foisted upon us unwillingly—can change our perspective and help us hope also for a share, through these very same sufferings, in Christ’s Resurrection.
One update: the Stations of the Cross from Holy Trinity in Hosmer will be returned to sacred use at the Newman Center of SDSU. Be sure to visit them in their new setting!